Quick Tips #381
Non-sparking tools are tools that are made of materials that are non-ferrous and therefore reduce the risk of a spark being created while the tool is in use. Non-sparking tools protect against both fire and explosion in environments that may contain flammable solvents/liquids, flammable vapors, or flammable dusts or residues. When working in confined spaces and areas where flammable gases or dust are present, using a non-sparking tool is the best practice in many cases. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has developed best practices guidelines for certain chemicals and processes that include choosing non-sparking tools.
Common materials used for non-sparking tools are brass, bronze, copper-nickel alloys, copper-aluminum alloys or copper-beryllium alloys. Beryllium alloys are less favorable due to the potential toxicity of breathing the dust of vapors which may potentially cause lung damage. Non-metals such as wood, leather and plastics can also be used to create non-sparking tools. Non-sparking plastic shovels are often used for hazardous material spill clean-up.
Because non-sparking tools are non-ferrous, they are softer than standard tools which are usually made of a high alloy steel. This may cause non-sparking tools to wear more quickly than their steel counterparts and frequent visual inspection may alert the user to any defects in the tools. Some common tools that are available in a non-sparking option include hammers, axes, pry bars, chisels, utility knives, mallets, pliers, screwdrivers, sockets and wrenches.
Regulations and Compliance
OSHA has supplied many documents which reference the importance of using non-sparking tools based on the contaminants or environment in which they are used. They published an information booklet entitled "Hand and Power Tools." Under the category of, "What are the Hazards of Hand Tools," they make the following statement: "Iron or steel hand tools may produce sparks that can be an ignition source around flammable substances. Where this hazard exists, spark-resistant tools made of non-ferrous materials should be used where flammable gases, highly volatile liquids, and other explosive substances are stored or used."
In the confined space standard, 1910.146 Appendix D-Confined Space Pre-Entry Check List, under section 9-Equipment, they reference having "All electric equipment listed Class I, Division I, Group D and Non-Sparking Tools."
OSHA has also provided direction regarding non-sparking tools for working with Chlorine Dioxide, Fireworks, Trimethylamine, Powered Industrial Trucks (forklifts, etc), Coal Dust, Dichloroethyl Ether, and several others.
Factory Mutual (FM) is an independent 3rd party testing agency. They have an approval standard for Spark Resistant Tools. Non-sparking tools, that are FM approved, will comply with all the requirements of this standard.
Commonly Asked Questions
Find even more information you can use to help make informed decisions about the regulatory issues you face in your workplace every day. View all Quick Tips Technical Resources at www.grainger.com/quicktips.
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The information contained in this publication is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This publication is not a substitute for review of the current applicable government regulations and standards specific to your location and business activity, and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.
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